Posted by: Chloe Schwabe | August 4, 2009

Back to school toxic-free and responding to Creation’s groans

“for the Creation waits with eager longing for the children of God; for the Creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole of Creation has been groaning in labor pains until now, and not only the Creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we await the redemption of our bodies.”

Romans 8:19-23

In this passage Paul teaches us that we are also part of Creation. When Creation suffers, we suffer. When we act as stewards of God’s Creation, we also renew our body and the whole body of Christ. This passage is fitting for thinking about mindful living and the toxics we are exposed to in our daily lives (to find other passages, read and endorse our Christian Principles for a Healthy Body and Spirit). There are over 82,000 industrial chemicals registered for use in the United States and yet only 200 have been tested for safety under the Toxic Substances Control Act. In the meantime, evidence has been mounting, linking some of these chemicals used in products that we have in our congregations, homes, and schools to health conditions that affect both our bodies and the rest of Creation. Children are the most vulnerable to toxic chemicals.

CHEJ safer school supplies

CHEJ safer school supplies

While August and the dog days of summer are only just upon us, children will soon be purchasing school supplies for the new year ahead. This is an opportunity to be mindful of the choices we make for the health of our children, the communities living near the manufacturing plants, and Creation. Some school supplies, such as some notebooks and lunch boxes, are made of poly-vinyl chloride (PVC) plastic. The Center for Health, Environment, and Justice- a coalition of environmental health, faith, and environmental justice communities- released today a Back to School Guide to PVC Products. This guide explains the problem of PVC, where it is found, and what affordable alternatives exist.

Why should we be concerned about PVC plastic? First, its production has caused an environmental injustice. A lot of cancer-causing chemicals are used to make PVC. There are more PVC manufacturing plants in Mossville, Louisiana than anywhere else in the nation. The citizens in Mossville, LA, a historic black community with deep faith roots, suffer from high rates of cancer, illnesses and ear, nose, and skin conditions.

PVC is also harmful because it contains additional harmful chemicals such as phthalates, lead, and cadmium that can harm children’s health who use the products. Lead has been linked to developmental delays and learning disabilities in kids, not to mention infertility in adults. Cadmium is identified as a known carcinogen by the EPA. Studies have linked phthalates to early childhood puberty in girls, prostate and breast cancer, and reproductive harm to baby boys.

What happens after we use PVC? Often times it is thrown into the trash and incinerated. This means cancer causing chemicals go back into the air we breathe. Again, it is often communities of color and low income communities that live near the trash incinerators. From cradle to grave, PVC is causing environmental injustices among the most vulnerable members of our society. Check out the CHEJ Back to School Guide for guide for PVC alternatives so that we can begin to address the groaning of the entire body of Christ –from Creation to vulnerable communities.

For more on the faith connections to environmental health, visit our Environmental Health webpage.

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